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A Swallow Press Book

Teach the Free Man

By Peter Nathaniel Malae

2008 Young Lions Fiction Award Finalist

“Peter Malae is the real deal. He's like a young Nelson Algren or Richard Wright, one of those writers who can hit with both hands. And his book is more than an auspicious debut; it's as good a collection of stories as I've read in years.”

Russell Banks

“Rather than physical descriptions of San Quentin and other penal landmarks, readers will find brilliant psychological portraits of convicts, ex-cons, their families and prison workers. The real prison, Malae suggests, is the ‘institutional me-tracked mind.’”

Metro Newspapers, Silicon Valley

“Inmates, their families, parolees, and prison workers are the subjects of this gritty, compelling collection that reveals a parallel world most readers are fortunate to have avoided encountering. It puts a human face on violence, hardship, and suffering in the name of justice, making them that much harder to ignore.”

The Story Prize

“Most of the characters in Peter Malae’s Teach the Free Man have managed to mismanage their lives, but what counts here is that Malae handles their voices so that their language—the slang, the jargon, the argot—rings true and draws us wholly into their hard luck, often violent, worlds. These are stories from borders of society and we need to thanks Mr. Malae for delivering them to us.”

Darrell Spencer, author of Bring Your Legs with You

The twelve stories in Teach the Free Man mark the impressive debut of Peter Nathaniel Malae. The subject of incarceration thematically links the stories, yet their range extends beyond the prison’s barbed wire and iron bars. Avoiding sensationalism, Malae exposes the heart and soul in those dark, seemingly inaccessible corridors of the human experience.

The stories, often raw and startlingly honest, are distinguished by the colloquial voices of California’s prison inmates, who, despite their physical and cultural isolation, confront dilemmas with which we can all identify: the choice to show courage against peer pressure; the search for individual rights within a bureaucracy; and the desperate desire for honor in the face of great sacrifice. These stories present polished and poetic examples of finding something redemptive in the least among us.

The book’s epigraph by W. H. Auden, from which the book takes its title, exemplifies the spirit of these dynamic stories:

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start.
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

Peter Nathaniel Malae lives in Santa Clara, CA, where he is a 2007-08 Steinbeck Fellow at San José State University. His fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Cimarron Review, Missouri Review, ZYZZYVA, and a host of other magazines and journals across the nation. His work has been selected for distinguished recognition in the Best American Essays and Best American Mysteries series. The manuscript of his first novel was recently awarded the Joseph Henry Jackson Literary Award by the San Francisco Foundation as well as a Silicon Valley Arts Council Fellowship.   More info →

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To request instructor exam/desk copies, email Jeff Kallet at

To request media review copies, email Laura Andre at

Permission to reprint
Permission to photocopy or include in a course pack via Copyright Clearance Center


Retail price: $18.95, S.
Release date: March 2007
272 pages · 5¼ × 8¼ in.
Rights:  World

Retail price: $29.95, S.
Release date: March 2007
272 pages · 5¼ × 8¼ in.
Rights:  World

Release date: March 2007
272 pages
Rights:  World

Additional Praise for Teach the Free Man

“The characters in these stories may be marginalized, but the stories themselves are the work of a talented author who deserves a wide audience.... (A)s good fiction must, they broaden our understanding of what it is to be human.”

Rain Taxi

“The notes don’t tell us whether Malae has been there. If not, he has been studying prison culture, hard, for a long time. And he has it down perfectly. He knows how to tie you into a story, make you feel trapped, like you are doing time too, with all these cons around you, so pissed off, so liable to explode at any moment.”

The Folio

“At his best, Malae incorporates colloquial language into gripping, tension-filled episodes to reveal the inner workings of a complicated social structure.... In his depictions of incarcerated life and his development of believable voices, Malae shows promise.”

Publishers Weekly

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